Now that madness of CES is behind us, and the Kansas City Chiefs have emerged victorious in the Super Bowl, it’s high time that I get back to the important work of shedding some light on several “under the radar” companies with disruptive products and technologies who have caught my eye. Because the list is somewhat extensive, this will be the first of a multi-part series. The following companies have impressed me with their product differentiation and unique value propositions, and I believe they have the potential to cut through the clutter-filled universe of “smart” gadgets.
Spinciti: not your typical e-bike
As I’ve written before, the quickly expanding e-bike market has dozens of small players looking to capitalize on the market’s projected global revenue of over $21 billion by 2024 (according to Mondor Intelligence). While competition in a market is generally good news because it drives prices down, the not-so-great downside is that many of these small players, who are often startups, may not be in business a year after you plunk down your cash for a new e-bike.
Spinciti is the latest company to offer an affordably-priced bike with notable specs, while refusing to compromise on design. I had the opportunity to briefly road test its next-gen commuter e-bike in downtown San Francisco, and I was impressed during my short time with it. Designed by a global team, dispersed across Amsterdam, San Francisco, Mexico City, Taiwan and China, Spinciti is notable for rejecting the “off the shelf” design philosophy that is common with most Internet-based e-bikes. The result is an exceedingly light, speedy (28 MPH with the 350W or 500W models) and stylish-looking commuter bike that has a maximum range of 50 miles. What jumped out at me is that despite this type of exceptional performance, these bikes are amazingly light—even the 500W model, which you’d expect to weigh more, comes in at a reasonable 52.6 lbs. Spinciti’s bike is pedal-assist only (no throttle), which facilitates a better workout experience in my view. During my test ride, I was particularly impressed with the exceptionally smooth acceleration when the Spinciti-designed motor kicked in (something not common, in my experience, with other e-bikes). The motor’s whine wasn’t overpowering by any stretch, making for a relatively quiet ride.
Available for preorder now on Indiegogo and shipping in April, Spinciti’s e-bikes are priced between $1,099 and $1,499, depending on which motor you select. Although I didn’t have a chance to spend much time with it, Spinciti also has an impressive iOS and Android smart app that provides real-time information, pedal control, management of health objectives and even a community sharing functionality (including the opportunity to challenge your friends). Spinciti’s e-bike offerings stand out for their quality, use of premium materials, intelligently designed smart app and stylish design. If you’re in the market for an affordable e-bike that stands out from the crowd, Spinciti deserves your consideration.
Aira takes inductive wireless charging to the next level
Sometimes I come across a company with a product or technology “ingredient” that I immediately recognize as having the potential to be a real gamechanger in its respective field. Aira is one of those companies in the wireless power area.
To put this into context, you’ll recall the dashed hopes of Apple devotees who were tantalized by the prospect of the now-cancelled AirPower charging pad—an Apple-designed charging mat that was specifically designed to charge Qi-based iPhones, the Apple Watch and AirPods, all at the same time. The AirPower design was proprietary and intended to combine Qi and inductive charging methods (required for devices like the Apple Watch and AirPod). Recognizing that it didn’t meet Apple’s “high standards” (which is Apple-speak for “developing this was a lot harder than we thought”), the product was unceremoniously canceled last March.
Enter startup Aira and its announcement at CES of its FreePower technology. FreePower promises to bring “freedom” to the wireless charging experience by implementing a fundamentally different wireless power coil matrix capability. FreePower utilizes the company’s patented circuitry and proprietary algorithms, which finds and tracks along a FreePower surface for rapid charging, even with multiple devices.
The implications of this technology are powerful. It’s conceivable we could see Aira’s FreePower capability integrated across large surfaces of tables or even furniture (rather than the small zones at tables that you might typically see at a Starbucks that often require careful positioning to make sure the device is charging properly). Since this technology can also be used with inductive charging products like AirPods or smartwatches, I fully expect to see variations of Apple’s original AirPower concept to hit the market later this year. In fact, Aira partners with Nomad, a peripherals manufacturer, that is developing Base Station Pro—a large charging pad that utilizes FreePower to simultaneously charge two smartphones and a wireless earbuds case (like the AirPods).
I expect to get a pre-production sample of Nomad’s Base Station Pro over the next several weeks and will assess if it lives up to the potential of the currently defunct AirPower solution. With the collective disappointment that was expressed by many Apple users after AirPower was canceled, Aira has a real opportunity to generate some excitement in the peripherals space. This technology promises to make wireless charging more effortless, seamless and convenient—if it delivers on this, Aira is a company definitely worth keeping an eye on.
Trifo’s Lucy: a potentially game-changing robot vacuum
Over the last 15 years or so, robotic vacuums have become almost as popular and common as the traditional vacuum cleaner, which was invented in 1901. Both iRobot (the market share leader) and Neato Robotics claim the high and mid-end parts of the market with solutions that range from $399 and above, while vendors like Ecovacs concentrate mostly on the low-end with price points below $299. iRobot and Neato Robotics’ lineups of solutions typically focus on more advanced solutions with relatively sophisticated feature sets designed to create a more effective and personalized vacuuming experience. Over the past few years, the market has been clamoring for a breakout solution that changes the traditional robot vacuum paradigm. I believe Trifo’s new Lucy robot vacuum has the potential to do just that.
Trifo’s Lucy robot vacuum is Alexa-enabled and comes equipped with a 1080p HDR color camera with an active depth sensor that allows for night vision. Unlike other robot vacuums, Lucy’s six-core ARM SoC works in tandem with the camera and sensor to help identify people, furniture and other obstacles. This capability helps Lucy detect objects less than an inch high (like slippers and shoes), while the product’s mobile app enables users to create a 3D model of their home, designating “clean” and “don’t clean” zones, and even “no go” lines (a feature that was popularized by Neato Robotics’ D7 model introduced in 2016).
Lucy’s breakout feature, though, is that it can patrol your home and use its camera to send you alerts should it sense something suspicious. You can designate patrol zones so that Lucy monitors doorways, hallways and window areas regularly. I suspect this single feature alone might capture the attention of consumers who are interested in a “roaming” surveillance camera inside their home that isn’t compromised by being in a fixed position.
Lucy is expected to ship later this year. Trifo has not announced specific pricing yet.
Other intriguing sound and audio products
About a year ago, I wrote enthusiastically about my experience with the Mu6 Smart Noise Cancelling Headphones. While I’ve historically been a big Bose fan when it comes to noise-canceling headphones, Bose charges a premium for its solutions (its latest model, the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700, sells for a pricey $350). The original Mu6 headphones offered comparable performance to Bose-class products, in my view, and were priced at only $150. A new model, MuSpace Space 2, makes a few enhancements to what was already a great affordable set of headphones and I’ve fallen in love with them.
The Space 2 is essentially an upgraded version that incorporates user feedback from the original model. The charging stand, which was included in the original model, was removed (presumably to save some cost) and the earmuffs were redesigned to improved comfort. The Active Noise Cancellation (ANC) capability, which was already quite good, was improved, as well as enhancements to the embedded software and speaker technology.
The result is headphones that are incrementally better than the original version, both from an audio and microphone standpoint. In contrast to the original model, the Space 2 offers Bluetooth support for two devices at the same time, which is convenient if you are using a smartphone or other Bluetooth-enabled device.
The Mu6 Space 2 is available at $149 via the company’s Indiegogo campaign, and it will ship in the March timeframe.
Lastly, if you are a video or audio podcaster and have been on the hunt for the perfect wireless microphone, I want to recommend Mikme. Video and audio podcasters who use their smartphone to capture content struggle with poor audio quality since their subjects are often several feet away.
Mikme is a small, squarish device that measures 2.75” X 2.75.” X 1.4” and weighs only 5.6 ounces. It can be used with microphone stands and DSLR tripods, but it works just fine if you use it within a few feet of your subject. This Bluetooth-enabled device can record studio-quality audio locally and synchronize it with video that you shoot on your smartphone or tablet. After you first pair your smartphone with Mikme via Bluetooth, recording the audio and video tracks at the same time is supremely easy. Mikme’s app allows you to see the audio track recording levels in real-time, and buttons on the rear of Mikme can be used to control gain.
When you stop recording the video in Mikme’s app, the audio file is extracted from the microphone and precisely stitched to the video file in just a few moments, depending on the length of the video. The net result is rather stunning; Mikme captures sound using a directional audio pattern, which allows it to sense audio coming from the direction it’s facing and segregate ambient sound. Check out this video on Mikme’s Web site to get a sense of how powerful this device is.
If you’re a videographer who depends on their smartphone to capture content, Mikme is indispensable. It’s even terrific for audio podcasts with small groups of speakers, or for recording concerts. Mikme 16GB model is priced at $399 (enough for a whopping 360 hours of recording). An 8GB model is also available for $299.
Coming soon: Round 2
Over the next couple of weeks, I’ll provide some post-CES commentary on a handful of other products that I’ve had a chance to spend some time with, including a new smart hearing aid, a dual-band mesh router, a motorized PC workstation table and a smart charger for electric cars. As I’ve opined in prior columns, all these products have one common denominator: they can make your tech lifestyle easier and more productive. Stay tuned.